October is pumpkin-harvest time. Collecting the great orange orbs is only part of the pleasure. The most fun comes when it's time to carve, paint, and decorate your pumpkins. Kids, young and old, can let their imaginations run wild. While you're busy decorating your pumpkin, don't forget to save the seeds and pulp for making roasted pumpkin seeds, cookies, breads, and pies.
The first step is to select the right pumpkin for your activity. Field pumpkins, such as 'Connecticut Field' and 'Big Max', are great for carving and making lots of pies, but they need a big space to be displayed. These varieties can weigh up to 50 pounds! Smaller varieties, such as 'Jack-O-Lantern', have a perfect shape for carving and look good on a porch or patio.
For young children, the mini-pumpkins weighing less than a pound, such as 'Jack-Be-Little' and 'Baby Boo', are easiest to handle and fit nicely in small spaces. For variety, try the white-skinned 'Lumina' or the red heirloom 'Cinderella', that looks more flattened than rounded.
When picking out a pumpkin to carve, look for one that is completely colored (orange, red, or white), has hardened, smooth skin that isn't easily pierced with a fingernail, has no rotten spots, and has at least 2 inches of stem still attached. Even though kids are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the pumpkins, wait until just before Halloween to carve your fruit. Store the pumpkin in a cool, dry area until you're ready to carve it. Pumpkins carved too early in October will tend to rot before the big night, especially in warm areas.
Adults should cut off the top of the pumpkin. Then have the kids use an ice cream scoop to clean out the "guts" and pumpkin seeds. Clean and put aside the seeds for roasting later. Have the kids draw a simple face they want carved on the pumpkin with a marker or on a white piece of paper to be used as a pattern on the pumpkin. If you use a pre-made pattern, pin the paper to the skin of the pumpkin and use straight pins to poke around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Remove the paper and pins and help children carve out the features along the holes left by the pins. Or kids can use cookie cutters to make various designs on their pumpkins. Use a tea candle placed in the base of the hollowed-out pumpkin to illuminate the jack-o'-lantern.
To keep your carved pumpkin looking fresh longer, wrap it in plastic to preserve moisture until Halloween and coat the cut edges with petroleum jelly to reduce moisture loss. Shriveled pumpkins can be partially revived by soaking them in a bucket of cool water for a few hours.
Paint & Decorate Pumpkins
For younger children who shouldn't be handling sharp knives, painting and decorating pumpkins is an engaging option. Select waterproof markers or paints. Young children will find markers easy to work with, while older children will like the freedom of using paints. To give kids a variety of decorating options, gather a selection of glow-in-the-dark paint, stickers, glue, and natural materials -- ornamental grass heads, contorted twigs, and small carrots. Use pumpkins of various shapes, sizes, and colors. Even butternut or other winter squash can be used to add some variety.
Make sure the pumpkins are at room temperature before painting. Cold pumpkins tend to sweat, and the paint could run. Consider tipping the pumpkin on its side so the stem becomes the nose. Young kids will have fun completing the face. Once the paint dries, spray the pumpkins with an acrylic spray to make the colors stand out and make the pumpkin last longer.
Make Pies and Roast Seeds
Of course you can make delicious breads, cookies, and pies from the leftover pumpkin pulp, but don't forget the seeds. You can make a delicious and nutritious snack for kids by roasting pumpkin seeds in the oven. Here's how:
Remove the seeds from the pulp by running the mixture under cold water. Pat the seeds dry with a towel. Preheat the oven to 300° F. Combine 1 tablespoon of oil or melted butter plus 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup of seeds. If you like, you can add other spices like pepper, paprika, and garlic. Toss seeds with the oil mixture until well coated. Spread evenly on a cookie sheet and bake until golden, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool on paper towels.
For more on growing and harvesting pumpkins, go to the Virtual Vegetable Guides at www.willhiteseed.com/store/asp/guides.asp
Question of the Week
Hastening Brussels Sprouts Development
Q. I love growing Brussels sprouts but the sprouts are always small. How can I get them to grow larger?
A. Brussels sprouts grow best in areas with cool summers and mild winters -- they are a long-season crop whose growing season often gets cut short in northern gardens. One technique that may help your sprouts size up is to prune off the leafy top of the plant in late summer so the plant directs its energy to the sprouts rather than to growing taller. Some growers also have success removing the lower leaves, so sunlight will reach the developing sprouts.